Grls I Know - Leah

Describe yourself without mentioning work.

I feel like I really got to know myself in the last two years. I went to rehab at 25 and before that I didn’t really know too much about myself. I always felt like I was one of many. I have three sisters and seventeen first cousins (Irish Catholic family). I was on the swim team in high school and in college I was in a sorority. When I graduated college at 23, I moved to the city for grad school. It was the first time I was solo and didn’t have a unit to be a part of. In hindsight, I really didn’t know what to do with that. After rehab and the last two years of therapy, I’m realizing a lot about who I am, but I’m still not totally sure. I lived as a piece of a puzzle for a very long time without ever realizing that I didn’t have to be one piece of anything. I think that’s why I’ve never been particularly driven in one direction. In school I sort of just fell into the majors that I went with and the same was true with relationships. I didn't recognize my queerness until I was 24 and I think I would have a long time ago if I hadn’t seen myself as ‘a part’ of so many units. It didn’t really fit into my life narrative as I saw it. Getting to know myself more through exploring my past, there were so many easter egg hints I was dropping for myself without realizing it. I could have known myself so much better had I ever tried, and I think alcohol was a huge, huge part of that. It’s why I have to be so self aware now. That’s why I fell into everything that I did because I never thought about what I actually wanted. It bums me out because now I’m almost 30, and just now becoming self aware.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Attleboro, Massachusetts. It’s a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island. People always assume I’m from Boston when I say Massachusetts, but I actually I feel more deeply connected to Rhode Island. It’s where my mom’s family is from, I spent most of my childhood on the beach there, and went to undergrad at URI. My parents still live in the family home I grew up in, which is so special to me.

How long have you lived in NEW YORK CITY?

Three and a half years. I moved here in May of 2013 for my grad school program, which was kind of like a hail mary pass. It seemed like an easy way, or good way to do it, to get here. The first year that I lived here I had a really hard time. I spiraled into a really deep depression which is when I became a serious alcoholic. I was not good at my job and I knew it, and that didn't make me want to try any harder.

Tell me what it's like living in New York. 

I love New York. I can't imagine living anywhere else. It’s my home through and through. There are some things about it that I feel I wouldn’t experience in other places, which makes me sad. It’s something I need to explore. I love this city so much, but there are some things that are really hard for me to deal with.

IN LIGHT OF THE RECENT ELECTION, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A WOMAN IN THE UNITED STATES RIGHT NOW?

I’m having a really, really hard time and it didn’t start with the election. Everything I’ve been feeling was underneath and the election brought to light. All of my fears about what I thought America was, are real. Recently, a friend was talking with me about needing to get on birth control with the current challenge to reproductive healthcare. I explained that, as a queer woman, birth control isn’t really a personal concern for me, but she brought up that with the current status of rape culture in America, that feeling just isn’t realistic anymore.The idea that I could get raped, become pregnant, and not get an abortion...because the government said so? That is truly terrifying. My autonomy has been so challenged. Ever since the election I’ve been so on guard. As a woman in NYC, I’m used to being cat called, but this week was the first time that someone was openly hateful to me specifically for being a queer woman in public, outside my place of work in SoHo, in the middle of the day. It felt very real. It feels like a visceral change, as if all of the air was switched with new air. I’ve never felt safe, but now it’s been solidified that I’m definitely not safe, and most of the country doesn’t care.

 

DID YOU HAVE ANY STRONG FEMALE INFLUENCES GROWING UP? 

I would say my mom was a really strong influence. She fucking did it all. I know more about her now in hindsight because I’m older. When we were babies, my dad was an alcoholic - there are 4 of us - and she was just bossing that shit out. She had this way of interacting with people where she would get them what they needed and everyone really liked her but no matter what, she knew she was right and important and had a way of being nice about it. She was really helpful to everyone. She told me that I was a really sensitive child which I absolutely believe. She instilled that sense of right and wrong in me, having manners, and not making people feel alienated. It’s something about me that probably boils down to when I was three or four. 

Does ‘being a woman’ feel like an active, always-present part of your life or is it not necessarily something that influences your day to day? 

I feel like it’s impossible to be a woman in the city and not realize you’re a woman in the city. In this day and age, everyone wants to pinpoint where you fall on the gender spectrum. As a femme-identifying woman, and as an aggressive woman, it’s hard to navigate my life without people telling me I’m bossy or bitchy or too assertive or too loud. I’m not here for that. I realize how much that comes into play daily because I have to check my responses to things all the time. If I’m feeling disrespected, my reaction is to stick up for myself. Having to think about what time of night it is or what neighborhood I’m in, to me that is inherently female and there’s no way around it. Last night, I wore something to an event that I would never ever wear to a bar, because I was going to a safe place with queer-identifying women and I knew I would be safe. I knew I’d be taking a car both ways and wouldn’t have to be on the subway. Thinking about things like that are just especially relevant for safety as a woman in New York. I know so many women who don’t live here that think I’m hyperbolic. Maybe they don’t get it. Maybe I am more “sensitive” to it than other people are, but I know I definitely wouldn’t need to deal with so much shit if I was a guy.

What Is your experience with female friendships? I have some girlfriends who come from BIG GIRL GANGS AND OTHERS WHO HAVE SINGLE CLOSE FRIENDS ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Female friendships are so important to me. The ‘girl gang’ has been ingrained in me since birth because I have three younger sisters and we‘re all really close in age. I’ve always had a big group of tight friends. Because I come from a big family, I’ve always wanted to keep my friends very close. I maintain relationships well and it’s important for me to catch up with my friends often and make sure it hasn’t been years since we’ve chatted. The cultivation of friendship is interesting. When I’m friends with someone, I’m 100% friends with them. I’m there for you, I care for you, if you need it, I’ll give it to you.

Does it feel easier or harder to make female friendships as you get older?

I think it’s harder to make friends, period, as you get older. People are more themselves as they age. Age puts everyone into smaller boxes because you like what you like what you like. Finding people that you really connect with, that also have similar interests, work schedules, live in the same borough, that are unmarried and without children, it’s hard! I feel like time is such a hot commodity in New York, and making friends with someone - you both really have to want it. When I finally realized I didn’t have to be friends with people I didn’t want to be friends with, it was a total game changer. Give yourself space to spend time with people you like.

Is there anything you wish women would talk about more with each other?

A lot of women in my life are in unhealthy relationships and don’t know how to talk about it. I think a lot of it comes from the privatized idea that what’s “personal” is personal. If more people felt comfortable to talk openly without feeling like they were being judged or assessed, it would make such a difference. People are afraid to talk about how they feel. With certain friends you know you can put it all out there. I also wish women would be nicer to each other, right out of the gate. There’s so much girl-on-girl hate and skepticism.

Tell me about your first job.

My first job was at American Eagle. I called them incessantly for a week. I think they hired me so I would stop calling them. I worked there for 8 years, through all of high school and college. I got so much shit on sale. It was really fun. The people that worked there were awesome.

What is your job now?

My job is somewhat of a moving target right now. I feel drawn to do something else, but I don’t know what that is, which is the problem. My job is fine. But I don’t want my job to be just fine.

What motivates you to work hard?

Enjoying myself and also performing well. When I’m good at something, when I really like the product I’m putting out there, if it’s something I stand by, that really works for me. That’s a big reason why my current job is cool - lots of things we do directly correlate with my interests, which is a big reason I like it there.

What advice would you give to young women starting out in your field (or any field) - or maybe even to your younger self?

Be bold. Ask for shit. No one is ever going to give it to you unless you ask for it. If you don't ask, the answer will always be no. And, if you do ask, the worst case is the answer is still no and you're right back where you started. If someone had told me that when I was younger, I would be making so much more money right now. Own what you’re good at. If you're good at something, don't apologize for being good at it. Don't do shit for free. So many creatives do shit for free, for “exposure”. You are better than that. Ask for more money. If you want 10, ask for 20.

 

WHO (OR WHAT) is your spirit animal?

I don’t know that I can claim a spirit animal, simply because it’s a bit appropriative for me. I don’t think it is fair for me to say I have a spirit animal because I’m not Native American and I don’t subscribe to that religious belief or culture. However, I will say, if I had a patronus - Harry Potter style - it would be a scorpion or a snake.

What song have you been playing on loop lately?

Side To Side by Ariana Grande

What was your first concert?

It was Jingle Mingle Ball, put on by 92 Pro FM Radio. The performers were Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Uncle Kracker, and Shaggy. It was amazing.

What was your most recent concert?

I really don’t go out that much. The last concert I can remember buying tickets to was Ingrid Michaelson’s holiday hop last Christmas. It was amazing and I’m going again this year.

Guiltiest pleasure?

Popcorn.

I like to think of all my girlfriends as being part of A magical coven of strong, independent witches. As a witch, what would you say is your biggest power?

My biggest witch power is persuasion. I could talk the pants off a nun, I could l sell water to a fish. If I want something, I’ve learned how to get it. Especially with men, because I’m a woman and my femininity has been turned against me so often. I have no problem spinning it on its head. I haven't killed a bug in years. I don’t fix things. If I’m going to make 75 cents on the dollar, I’m never doing that shit again. Someone else is going to do it for me.

'GRLS I KNOW' is a collection of conversations with some of the greatest women I know. 

Interviews are published every Monday.